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There’s a new polish on Microsoft’s Surface.
The world’s largest software company unveiled the new Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 -- as well as an innovative way to turn a tablet into a DJ's mixing booth -- at an event Monday in Manhattan, held at a location so far on the West Side of the city that it was practically underwater.
It's an apt metaphor for Microsoft itself, which sometimes feels a pace away from sinking beneath the waves itself as the company struggles to adapt to a world where personal computers, Microsoft’s bread and butter, have increasingly less relevance.
'This thing is a beast.'
Today’s American is all about smartphones and tablets, areas that Microsoft has tried unsuccessfully to move into.
The latest version of the company's flagship hardware product, a tablet that converts into a laptop with a kickstand and a slick keyboard-enabled cover, is Microsoft’s answer.
“I want you to love this product,” said Panos Panay, a corporate vice president with Microsoft and the head of the Surface product division, at the product launch. “This thing is a beast.”
The new Surface Pro 2 physically looks almost identical to the earlier version of the tablet, a beautifully manufactured gadget that includes a few features to make it stick out from the crowd. A kickstand built into the back of the Surface lets the tablet prop itself up; the new version adds a second position to the stand to rest better on laps.
It also includes the new Haswell chip from Intel, which let the company increase battery life by 75 percent, a common complaint among owners of the first version. It also doubles the graphics power and improves processing power.
The other big innovation is the Touch covers, felt-like protective covers for the tablet that integrate keyboards, something that Microsoft says makes the Surface 2 stand out from the iPad. With a keyboard, the device is really a full-featured laptop -- indeed, the fastest laptop on the market, Panay said.
“It's the best selling product in its class … and the people who use it love it,” he said.
Microsoft plans to expand and amaze with additions to the Touch cover line. Called the Surface Remix Project, a new line of covers will be unveiled that add distinct features. At the Monday event, Panay showed off just one of them: a felt cover with buttons that resemble those on a mixing board.
It turns any Surface into a dedicated music creation station, letting you remix your favorite music and share it with the world.
But will these and other improvements be enough to turn around what has been a lackluster product for the software giant? Despite solid reviews, the first edition of the product failed to breakthrough in the market, due partly to a high price tag and partly due to consumer concerns surrounding Windows 8, the touch-centric new operating system from Microsoft.
The new Surface comes with Windows 8.1, which address some consumer complaints about the software, notably the lack of a Start button and the inconvenience of using the standard desktop interface.
Pre-orders for the new Surface tablets begin Sept. 24. The Surface 2 starts at $449, while the higher end Surface Pro 2 will start at $899 for a version with 64GB of RAM. The new Touch Cover 2 costs $119.99, while Type Cover 2, a version with more keyboard-like keys, will cost $129.99.